Molly Lewis’ life is almost as cinematic and surreal as her references. From whistling for Harry Dean Stanton on his deathbed to flying to New York for Gerwig’s Barbie soundtrack, Lewis is becoming the leading lady of whistling. With a childhood love of whistling, Lewis went on to win the 2015 Masters of Musical Whistling competition and began to curate her own series of shows, Café Molly, which drew fans and friends, John C. Reilly, Karen O, and Mac DeMarco. Following her two EPs, Lewis is releasing her debut album, On The Lips, in 2024.
Molly Lewis wears ARNSDORF dress.
Though born in Australia, it is rare that Lewis plays shows here, so we seized the opportunity to speak to her ahead of her highly anticipated show at Phoenix Central Park. Set against the almost Morricone-inspired cactus garden, Lewis reveals that she is “happy to be here, although a little nervous!” Her sister and old friends who she doesn’t get to see very often will be making an appearance and she shares that it’s often easier to play to an anonymous audience. “It’s great to see people I know and love, but I get nervous about doing the show justice.”
Although nervous, Lewis has no need to be worried, she has recently been on tour with Weyes Blood and has been preparing her own shows at Café Molly – “the evenings out she would like to have” – for a while. Lewis has a versatile format and explains that she tailors each show to each event. “For a while I was kind of putting a show together depending on the events and also putting a different band together depending on the event. So that means I have a different band of musicians I play with in LA, there's people I play with in New York, there's people I play with in Europe. I've never played in Sydney but I know I could put a band together here, because there's a lot of great musicians. However, because of the time restraint, I’m just doing this as a solo set.” Lewis explains that she used her shows with Weyes Blood as the foundation for her solo tour, but adding, extending and expanding it, giving it a new meaning.
Lewis uses her surrealist Hollywood aesthetic to guide people through her lyric-less instrumental music. “I like having a concept for many reasons. It helps me think about the music I'm making, and also think about the artwork, or the 'package' around the songs, what the feelings are, and the context around them.” Lewis continues, “the last two records have their own worlds. The first one (The Forgotten Edge) was an imaginary soundtrack world. The second one (Mirage) was this kind of fake island, between Brazil and LA that I wrote with a Brazilian guitarist and the next one, (On The Lips) I wanted to feel like going to one of my live lounge shows.”
Lewis loves the theatricality of putting on a live show and dressing up, and she loves her audience to get dressed up too. She takes pleasure in creating old school lounge shows with special guests, for people who want to have “a lovely evening out". Lewis explains that with her forthcoming record, she wanted to capture the essence of her live shows, and even played with fake clapping in between the songs, guiding her listeners through the experience with covers and original pieces. There are multiple musical references and influences on the new record, largely as she has different musicians for different tracks, so doesn’t have the standard unified band that would exist in an actual live recording.
Visually, Lewis is very inspired by Julie London, saying “I love her… she’s very old school, a bit sexy, but with a wink, which I like.” London was a big influence for the video for Lewis’ current single, Lounge Lizard. Lewis explains “the music video that I did for Lounge Lizard was directly referencing this scene that London does in a film called The Girl Can't Help It where she's appearing in this man's apartment, and singing Cry Me A River to him.”
Lewis is also a big disco fan, and called on Donna Summer as a reference: “of course, my music isn't disco, but there's this amazing photo of Donna Summer with all these sparkles and it looks like a live photo, but it's not. So I wanted to do a fake ‘live’ photo for the fake ‘live’ album.” Lewis is a collector and treasures references, storing them for when she needs to guide her audience visually through her instrumental music, learning a new language of visual communication to support her art.
For anyone who needs a whistler, be it Dr. Dre or Jackson Browne, Lewis is usually the first port of call. So I’m curious to find out who is on her collaborative wishlist, and returning to disco, it so happens to be ABBA. “I would love to do some disco and Abba is my favourite.” Being a huge fan of soundtracks and scores she would love to work in film, and has even studied it. With humility she confesses “I never thought I was a good enough musician to do scores, but I do feel like I'm learning a lot about music and learning about composition. And so there's a part of me that is hoping to end up in that world.” Lynch and Tarentino are on the collaborator wishlist, and we agree that this would be a perfect match.
On her method, Lewis explains that every song is different, but usually starts with her strength: melody. Whether in the car or the shower, Lewis will make hundreds of voice notes, “just little things that I'm hearing or ideas, sketches of melodies or full melodies, some songs that I have recorded have come from that.” Lewis furthers, “I'm so grateful for the collaborators. I work with Tom Brannick, who produced the records". Brannick helped take these melodies and turn them into the building blocks for songs, annihilating elements of self doubt which plague all artists. “Tom really helped me kind of translate these ideas. He'd be like, ‘Oh, that's a beautiful melody. We can put a sax solo here and then repeat at the end. And there's your song!’” Lewis' response to this way of working: “Wow, you can do that?!”
So far, Lewis' career has been unpredictable, and she's excited to see what the New Year will bring with the release of her record, and potential shows and collaborations. Joyfully living in the moment she explains, “I kind of gave music a shot because I had these opportunities and I was like, 'we'll see what happens next!' One thing leads to another, and I'm still doing it.” We discuss her excitement to tour and she’s relieved at the ease of her ability to do so – unlike her friend Mary Lattimore. “She's got a harp she needs to secure in every city and I feel bad. My load-in is extremely easy. All I need is a chapstick!” Turns out champion whistlers like Lewis are not too fussy on the brand, but while in Australia, she chooses Lucas Papaw Ointment, obviously…
We leave Lewis to don her finest sparkles and chapstick to serenade the audience at Phoenix, already eager for her next return to the Southern Hemisphere.